What do you see when you look in the mirror? Depending on time of day, amount of vodka or salty foods consumed the night before, the answer can range from mild amusement to absolute horror.
I was a cute little girl, looked like all the other little girls. The first after two boys and my Mom styled me proper. I wore a pastel dress, black patent Mary Jane’s and white anklet socks trimmed in lace for Easter, paired with matching cape. There’s home video of toddler me, Beatnik cool with a bowl cut, Navy pea coat, striped tee, slim black pants and flats with a buckle. I would wear that outfit now. But I got chubby fast and stayed there. For summer vacation, Mom bought me a bikini. “Oh Maaaaaa”, I groaned in my head, already aware at eight of the dread of exposed, wobbly flesh. I tried it on in the little bathroom, pulling myself on top of the vanity for a full view. Although hunched over, my head just grazing the popcorn ceiling, I was cute my bikini.
I grabbed a faded floral towel from the rack – just in case – and headed down the split level stairs. Two of my three brothers saw me first. There were no words, just loads of rolling laughter. I never wore that bikini.
I got boobs first of all the girls in the neighborhood. Very round and large for my age, factory new and obvious. I wanted the look of freshly ironed flatness in my 100% cotton Sunday dress. Mom stuck me in a training bra immediately. Funny things, training bras; not so much a “bra” as a plastic smelling, thick elastic band one would roll up, roll down then adjust. All the boys knew you had one on. I stopped looking at my body like a girls; I was too round, too bound and too different. That thinking followed me into my teens and helped create a fat girl. Not a chubby girl, I was fat. The kind of fat that looked as if you’d stepped into a padded body suit, no waist and a square butt that puckered in oddly. The rolls of my belly got bigger. I had few friends. The really fat girls never did. I was funny, but funny didn’t get you invited to sleep-overs or make you the recipient of multiple choice love notes; “Do you like Ken? ‘Yes’, ‘No’, ‘Maybe’”. No boy asked once the lights dimmed and the slow songs played in the rink at Skateland.
“Epiphanous” best describes the summer between freshman and sophomore year in high school. Not only did I get my first period earlier that year, I realized, “Oh god. Gym is a requirement. I have to wear shorts at school”. With little guidance, and no one really watching, during a very hot and muggy summer spent in Nebraska with my Dad, I decided to stop eating. It was easy, actually. My Dad was gone all day to work, my brothers glued to the widely entertaining and brand new cable station, MTV. I would lie in a twin bed in the second bedroom, a tiny, B/W Sony on the bed side table at eye level and watch soaps all day. I would create fantasies about the handsome soap actors (although never an object of attention, I had thoughts about boys – and my body – very early). I would drink Diet Cokes and eat nothing. When Dad came home, I would pick at dinner, consuming 500 calories or less per day. The period I’d acquired just months before stopped, supine to standing brought a head rush and my hair started to fall out. Oddly enough, that summer with nutrients absurdly and dangerously restricted, I still managed to sprout from 5’6 to 5’8.
I returned home two months later and 30 pounds lighter; I ended up losing 60 by year’s end. The boys looked, the girls asked. Grown men whistled when they drove by. I was an object of desire. I recall just two instances where my still-unnamed-not-yet-movie-of-the-week-fodder eating disorder (that came in 1983 in the guise of Karen Carpenter) garnered parental attention. The first occurred that summer in Nebraska. My Dad took me to White Castle, just me and not the boys. He bought a plate of sliders and watched. It was torturous to chew then swallow the meaty/cheesy/oniony squares. I had two down and Dad appeared to relax. When he went to the bathroom and for cigarettes, I threw the rest of the meal on the floor, hiding it underneath the table. He was proud of what he’d accomplished. Problem solved.
The second came when I refused to eat cake on my birthday. I don’t know if my Mom was more concerned and angry because of the trouble she’d gone to or at how I merely swirled a glob of white frosting streaked with pink around the plate before abandoning it. “If you don’t eat like a normal person, I will take you to the hospital and force a needle into your arm”, she said. I bet she wouldn’t. She didn’t.
I did eat again, of course. I’ve come to realize I like my round, soft body. I work out regularly, cardio and strength. I have the muscle mass and flexibility to stand tall and straight and regal. I have a beautiful neck and shoulders from endless deltoid work. I can take a picture of myself naked. I’m working towards Kate Winslet in “Titanic”, Bettie Page in her heyday, a body with tone and shape, but curvy and sexy. I love food. I love red wine. I love martinis. But I eat well. I consciously address the emotional eating that plagues me (emotional covers a gambit - sad, happy, Tuesday). I enjoy being a girl, a woman. I don’t wear worn panties with explosive threads of elastic springing from the waistband, or tired cotton bras stained by deodorant. I wear stretch lace, form fitting teddies under my clothes. Pretty lingerie that holds in the bits that protrude, create a pretty bustline and offer a surprise at the end of an evening. I shower with scented gels and slather on creamy body lotion. My clothes are impeccable and stylish. I polish the product I have, shoot it in the best light like a food stylist capturing the essence of a roast turkey.
And I’m beautiful right now, as is, in this moment.